Book review (take two): In the Midst of Death by Lawrence Block (Matthew Scudder #3)

Note: I wrote a rather perfunctory review of this years back. One problem then was I that I listened to the audio book, so was unable to flip back and forth. I’m reading the Scudder series in order at the moment and revisited this one, so here is an updated review. It’s more negative. Spoilers!

A police whistleblower has his halo not just tarnished but trashed when he is accused of extortion by a high-class call girl. Claiming innocence and knowing he is being targeted by a furious police force angry at their dirty laundry being revealed, he hires Scudder to get to the bottom of things. Before Scudder gets too far into it, the call girl is murdered.

After two terrific Matthew Scudder novels, The Sins of the Fathers and Time to Murder and Create, Lawrence Block stumbles with the third, In the Midst of Death. Block’s skill with writing will keep you turning the pages, but the book is a mess.

Nothing leads to revealing the killer’s identity other than Scudder’s instinct. There aren’t clues, there’s no foreshadowing, nothing. Something just clicks in his head and, voila!, he’s right!

There’s a ridiculous sex scene that leads to an attempted romance where the lovers talk of the moon and such. We are supposed to buy that this is more than a romance of convenience, but it’s difficult to believe that it’s a romance at all.

For the second novel in a row, Scudder pressures someone into suicide, and in the same way. You’d think Scudder would have learned after the first time. Why is nearly the exact same situation in two books in a row? In Time to Murder and Create, Scudder at least felt guilty about it, but this time out, he doesn’t really care.

In fact, Scudder bears partial responsibility for two deaths in this book. Scudder, who apparently has never read a mystery, doesn’t realize that if someone involved in a murder case is furiously trying to get in touch with you and you purposely avoid responding, that person will end up dead. This death doesn’t concern him much, either.

Throw in a plot hole with a major loose thread wrapped around it, add in some really awkward attempts at humor, and you’ve got a mess on your hands.

The last few pages are poignant, but that is not enough to salvage In the Midst of Death. If you are sampling the series rather than reading it in order, you are safe to skip this one. If you are reading the series in order, it’s short, at least not boring, and is important in tracking Scudder’s further descent into alcoholism, so go ahead and plow through it. Just don’t try to make sense of it.

Have no fear. Block and Scudder will right the ship, and soon.

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